Mistake: Thinking Like an Undergrad
Undergraduates take classes. Graduate students immerse themselves in a discipline. Undergrads' work ends when class ends, they turn in papers, and leave campus. Graduate students' work, on the other hand, is never done. After class they do research, meet with faculty, in a lab, and interact with other students and faculty. Successful graduate students understand the difference between college and graduate school and treat their education like a job.
Mistake: Worrying About Grades
Undergraduates worry about grades and grade-grub. In grad school grades are not that important. Funding is usually linked with grades but poor grades are very uncommon. C's generally are uncommon. In graduate school, the emphasis is not on the grade but on the learning.
Mistake: Failing to Plan Ahead
Effective graduate students are detail oriented. They juggle many tasks. They must prepare for multiple classes, write papers, take exams, conduct research and perhaps even teach classes. It's no surprise that good graduate students are good at identifying what needs to be done and prioritizing. However, the best graduate students keep an eye on the future. Focusing on the here and now is important but good students think ahead, beyond the semester and even year. For example, they begin thinking about comprehensive exams well before it's time to study. They toss around dissertation ideas early in graduate school and seek feedback. They consider career alternatives and determine what experiences they need to get the jobs they desire. For example, those who want jobs as professors will need to obtain research experience, learn how to write grants, and publish their research in the best journals that they can. Graduate students who think only about the present may miss out on the experiences that they need and may be ill-prepared for the future they envisioned.
Mistake: Not Being Aware of Politics
Undergraduate students are shielded from academic politics and are unaware of the power dynamics within a department or university. Success in graduate school requires that students become aware of departmental politics. In every university department there are some faculty with more power than others. Power can take many forms: grant money, coveted classes, administrative positions and more. Moreover interpersonal dynamic influence departmental decisions and student's lives. Faculty who dislike each other, for example, may refuse to sit on the same committee. Even worse, they may refuse to agree on suggestions for revising a students' dissertation. Successful graduate students are aware that part of their success relies on navigating nonacademic interpersonal issues.
Mistake: Not Fostering Relationships
Many graduate students mistakenly think that graduate school is only about classes, research, and academic experiences. Wrong. It's about relationships. The connections students make with faculty and other students form the base for a lifetime of professional relationships. Most students recognize the importance of professors in shaping their careers. Graduate students will look to professors for recommendation letters, advice, and job leads throughout their careers. Every job that a graduate degree holder might seek requires several letters of recommendation and/or references.
It's not just faculty who matter. Successful graduate students also foster relationships with other students. Students help each other by providing advice, tips, and as a sounding board. Graduate student friends of course, also are sources of support and friendship. After graduation student friends become sources of job leads and other resources. The more time that passes after graduation the more valuable those friendships are.
Mistake: Not Putting in Face Time
Completing class work and research is a big contributor to success in graduate school. But the intangible also matter. Successful graduate students put in face time. They are around and visible in their department. The don't leave when classes and other obligations are over. They spend time in the department. They are seen.
Mistake: Not Having Fun
Graduate school is a lengthy endeavor. Graduate students spend years studying, researching, and cultivating professional skills. Although as a student you will have a great many responsibilities it is important to take time to have fun. You don't want to gradate and later that you have missed out. The most successful graduate students are healthy and well-rounded - they make time for, and cultivate a life.